Oldest human footprints outside of Africa found on English beach

Last May, while strolling along England's east coast after a storm, a series of depressions were found in the recently uncovered stone. Staring at them, university College Archaeologist Simon Parfitt noticed that a number of these impressions looked a lot like human footprints. As the beach quickly redeposited its sands after the storm, he and his colleagues began a frantic mission to preserve the details of the find.

Sand was dug away, cameras and 3D scanners brought in, and numerous measurements were taken. Eventually the scientists had to relent to the forces of mother nature, but not before they'd gotten their evidence. Now, after months of processing the data and taking core samples of the surrounding area, the scientists believe they now know what they found that stormy day.

The footprints are those of a family group of humans, possibly from a species that predates our own. Homo antecessor was already documented as having been in southern Europe at a similar time, though they are thought to have died out around 800,000 years ago. These footprints thus far have been found to likely date back to somewhere between 850,000 to 950,000 years ago. Depending on their exact date, they could even signify the end of the age of these early humans.

It is also thought that the location of these footprints might have then been the mouth of the River Thames, upon which London now sits, making these ancient humans the first Londoners of sorts. Even if these footprints are 800,000 years old, they predate modern humans (Homo sapiens) by 600,000 years. With storms now ravaging the U.K.'s opposite coast, perhaps another such discovery lies in wait for English archaeologists.

Natural History Museum, UK, via io9

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